Di Connal - Artist
Interview with Kate Hartmann
Diane Connal’s early years were spent in Gonville, Whanganui. She lived in a close knit community where the kids would run around together all day, in and out of each other’s homes and back to their own by tea time. The family (Di has 3 siblings) then moved to the Hutt valley where she attended Nae Nae College. Here Di threw herself into most things, sport and art equally and she was the type of girl who was way more interested in the politics and current affairs of the day than the length of her hemline. It was during this time that Di first explored sculpting small pieces of jewellery made out of Fimo. She then sold them on Friday nights on Wellingtons Golden Mile, the premium shopping strip:
“I had a hawker’s license, which involved the police coming to interview me and make sure I was a reputable person! It cost $10. I don’t think I sold much but I had lots of fun.”
Diane’s mother was a dental nurse and her father owned a book shop. Diane knew that there was no way she would be accepted as a female apprentice by any of the manufacturing jewellers so after doing some work experience in a photographer’s studio she decided to become a camera operator. However she was told that this was not a suitable profession for a girl so she pursued a career as a Karitane nurse and worked in the disability sector. This served her well for a time as she did and still does, care about helping people within her community but her creativity and storehouse of ideas was begging to be explored.
During the late 70’s, early 80’s whilst Di had taken some time off to do some travelling around Asia and Australia, she spontaneously decided to enrol at Randwick Tech in Sydney and complete their jewellery diploma. It was obviously meant to be as this course is quite a tough course to get into but into it she was! It was a very structured course and it gave her the solid foundation in skills and techniques she needed. As she started to grow as an artist though she looked for a more conceptual, creative approach and found it at the Sydney College of the Arts and it was here that she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Jewellery Design.
Since completing her degree, Diane has worked in a couple of galleries and owned one herself. She was the first jeweller to be stocked by Te Papa and has taught in various institutions. Now she concentrates on producing enough jewellery to stock her dealers nationally and internationally and running her own jewellery business from home.
The Kapiti Coast has been home to Diane for over 19 years and her association much longer if you count wonderful childhood holidays spent here at the beach. The environment and landscape of the coast greatly influence Di’s work. She is constantly inspired by the different forms, colours and designs in the hills, seas and grasses around her.
Diane also has a love of the found object such as bone, jade, pebbles and china.
“My work has a certain flavour. I have always used found objects, which is so fashionable now. I think the pieces have a very New Zealand feel without being obviously so.”
She likes to play with the concept of elevating an everyday object and marrying it together with precious materials such as gold and silver.
In the same way that Di creates something precious out of sometimes ugly materials, so she also transforms difficult and gnarly aspects of the human experience into works that express love and gratitude. When the Connal children were growing up, a special plate, the strawberry plate was used to serve the pudding. They would all take turns to have their pudding served on the strawberry plate and it tasted so much better if you ate it off that plate. When their mother died, Diane inherited the strawberry plate. So what did Di do with it? She smashed it and made jewellery for all her siblings out of the shattered shards in loving memory of their mum.
“When a parent dies, that familiar way they talk to you goes too – even the way they say your name”
Her mother was a woman who would say certain phrases to her children such as “Love is the answer” and “If wishes were horses, beggars could ride”, all of these phrases now appear in Diane’s work from time to time, a way of maintaining connection to the past and preserving and remembering that language. With the prevalence of mass manufactured jewellery these days with little personality on offer, Di’s work stands out brightly with its nostalgia, integrity and meaning. As she says:
“We have reached a tipping point with imported rubbishy product. In tighter economic times, people choose more carefully. They have such busy lives and having something unique, made by hand, has a value that is lifelong.”
Diane accepts private commissions and works on a new range yearly and can be contacted through http://www.dianeconnal.com/Home